Cold War History
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Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War: Perspectives on History and Personality V. Zubok Available online: 06 Sep 2010
To cite this article: V. Zubok (2002): Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War: Perspectives on History and Personality, Cold War History, 2:2, 61-100 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713999954
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Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War: Perspectives on History and Personality V L A D I S L AV M . Z U B O K
The article explores the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev on the end of the Cold War and the self-destruction of the Soviet Union. It is based on a wealth of memoir literature, interviews, and primary sources, including the archival collections of the Gorbachev .oundation in Moscow. It first discusses the standard explanations of the Cold Wars end which highlight structural changes in the international system, a structural domestic crisis within the Soviet Union, and a radical shift of ideas in the Soviet leadership, showing the important anomalies they all leave unexplained. Then it analyzes Gorbachevs character, revealing what set him apart from other leaders, finally, assessing in detail how these traits influenced the ending of the Cold War. Particular attention is paid to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. The article concludes that many aspects of the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War can only be understood through the Gorbachev personality factor, and that the impact of Gorbachevs personality cannot be understood until we abandon simplistic judgements.
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It is a perennial human illusion to attribute great events to great causes. Particularly during the past century scholars have tended to attribute transitions from one historical period to another to grand, impersonal forces shifts in the balance of power, inter-imperialist contradictions, revolutions, the rise of new ideologies and social movements. In the current scholarly climate the other extreme has become fashionable: to highlight the micro-levels of history the role and beliefs of common people, incremental changes in social life, and power as a phenomenon of everyday life. As a result of these two trends, the view that history is shaped by great men is utterly discredited. Today, many historians would rather die than admit that the character of a personality in a position of power at a critical juncture can make a major difference in the course of history. Among recent exceptions is the figure of Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. This energetic, handsome man with sparkling eyes and a charming smile did more than anyone else to end the Cold War between East and...